chapter  10
26 Pages

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Amongst the justifications advanced for British imperialism was the belief in the intrinsic merits of ‘British civilization,. The capacity of that civilization to preserve and yet to reform its political institutions has already been noted, but its merits went deeper. British civilization, it was frequently claimed, was a distinctive manifestation of the Christian civilization of Europe. That note, struck in the eighteenth century, was still heard in some surprising quarters in the dark days of 1940.1 The spectacle of troops from the British Empire assembling together then in defence of freedom reminded the Canadian High Commissioner in London of ‘the warfare against the infidel, when Christian men from every part of Europe were gathered together to fight for the de­ liverance of the Holy Sepulchre’ .2 Similarly, in 1939, when Lord Lloyd ad­ vocated The British Case, he took the view that British national endeavour should be ‘shaped and determined by the requirements of Christian morality’ .3 Belief in a providential mission was certainly not confined to pulpits. The Times,for example, continued to assert ‘we are a Christian people still,. The newspaper found it odd that Britain, a country which was apparently staking its all in defence of Christian principles, should nevertheless have a national education system which allowed the citizens of the future to have a purely heathen upbringing. The exciting prospect that ‘Christendom’ might be restored engaged both intellectuals and clergymen. It was understandable, in the prevailing dire circumstances, that somewhat exaggerated claims for Christian Britain should have been made. They had a long pedigree.